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Mirroring beauty of life

The painted flowerpots that line her small garden may just escape the eye. But no way can one miss the stained glass paintings at the entrance to her house. Big terracotta pots, again painted, are kept near the doorway.

It's an artist's home, a treasure-house of her creations. And they are not few in number. Fresh from yet another sale and exhibition of her beloved stained glass and terracotta paintings, Anna John looks relaxed.

Stained glass? A rather unusual hobby, one must say. Anna breaks out into a laugh saying, "And an expensive one too."

She speaks of an incident when someone asked her whether she couldn't find a hobby that was lighter on the purse. "I have been fascinated by stained glass right from my childhood, which I spent in Tanzania. We used to see them in churches there. Very few Indian churches have them though. Contrary to what one might start thinking, Anna didn't pick up the brush, so to say, immediately. Life took on a routine course. Education, marriage, kids... Anna even took up a job as an English lecturer in a college in Mumbai, where she lived with her husband Samuel John, who was chief general manager of Reserve Bank of India.

About 10 years ago, with her children grown up and settled abroad, Anna decided to undertake a nine-month course in stained glass, terracotta, foil and hardboard painting.

Then on a visit to the U.S. to see her children, she enrolled on a course in stained glass painting at Texas University. She learnt how to cut and grind glass, solder it with copper and lead ribbon to help it stay together and use patina on it.

Anna followed it up with a three-week training session with David Kittral at his famous gallery. Thus began the journey of an artist.

She works on painted glass as the original stained glass is not available here. The difference, she says, is that the original stained glass is opaque, that is doesn't allow light to pass through. The ordinary painted glass is translucent. Arrange for some stained glass and see Anna's talent come to the fore. But she loves painting glass just as much.

Initially, she used to paint Jesus or Mary and the child but after someone pointed out, she took to painting Hindu deities as well. "I don't think anyone would have seen a stained glass Ayyappa or Lakshmi," she says grinning. Deities apart, she also paints Japanese geishas and Rajasthani princesses and flowers. The painting doesn't come cheap. The paint or rather the dye itself costs Rs 650 per litre and all her material is brought from Mumbai or America. The painting of Gods may come for as much as Rs 1,050 and above. The large ones with boxes that are priced per square feet may cost Rs. 5,000, the box not included.

Her painted terracotta pots are much different from the usual pots that adorn our interiors. What is striking is their un-Indian colours and patterns. "This is probably because of our interaction with Westerners during our stay in Tanzania.

"I pick up pots during my travels. There is always packaging material and hay at the back of our car for one never knows what one may come across. She also makes it a point to pick up stands for the pots and lids for them. Their beauty hits you fully when looked at from eye-level.

The stands are therefore essential. And if you are one of the few who think the big pots are priced prohibitively, there are always small ones to chose from, some for as little as Rs 90.

Foil painting interests her just as much. Unlike in Kerala, where these are done in black and white, Anna does them in colour too. She also dabbles in hardboard painting.

R. K. ROSHNI

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